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“The Future” by Leonard Cohen Essay (Critical Writing)


The Future is a song that Cohen released in 1992; the album went by the same title. In this song, Cohen employs both consecrated and profane imagery to address the issue of apocalypse and the salvation thereafter.

Cohen addresses apocalypse from both Judeo-Christian and Buddhist point of view as he mentions the Nirvana construct in the song. The song opens by expressing suffering and isolation that would mark the end of the world.

He goes on to address the evil nature of humanity that probably justifies why people will suffer at the end. The insinuation given here is that human beings posses a “hole”: that is, emptiness that they seek to fill and as result turn to wickedness like rape.

Cohen then goes further to describe how it will be during the time of the end and he posits that order and meaning will vanish as, “Things are going to slide in all directions” (Cohen stanza II). Cohen then goes further to evaluate judgment from both a Christian and a Buddhist point of view. However, regardless of the perspective that Cohen views apocalypse, he keeps on repeating that, “I’ve seen the future baby, it is murder” (Cohen stanza I).

People will not die, but the suffering that they will go through is tantamount to murder. During the apocalypse, God will show up, judge all sinners, and save all those who are faithful to him. Apocalypse is inevitable. Similar ideas are expressed in TV drama “24” devoted to social security issues and prevention of terror attacks.

Critical Evaluation

As aforementioned, the song opens with identifying suffering and isolation that people will experience during apocalypse. By saying, “Give me back my broken night…its lonely here there’s no one left to torture, Give me absolute control” (Cohen stanza I), Cohen implies that he is in a place where there is no day but continuous night.

Moreover, there is nobody to torture; loneliness dominates here and that is why the writer is asking for restoration of “absolute control’. These events can only happen at the end when everyone will account for his or her own actions.

The second stanza expounds on how people will crave their evil deeds. “Give me crack and anal sex; Give me back the Berlin wall give me Stalin and Saint Paul” (Cohen stanza II). Anal sex is evil and that is what the writer is demanding back. He also demands three elements here; Berlin wall stands for tyranny, Stalin stands for destruction and Saint Paul stands for salvation.

The significance of these elements shows how people in the present world have the freewill to choose between good and evil. This tyranny is similar to what happens in the TV drama “24” where terrorism has to be addressed. In season 6, terrorists plan to attack the U.S and this tyranny. Final judgment will be based on these choices.

In the next stanza, Cohen gives a real picture of how apocalypse will be. “Things are going to slide in all directions; the blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold

and it has overturned the order of the soul” (Cohen stanza III). During apocalypse, there will be no order and as Cohen says, things will fly in all directions. The world will have crossed the limits of tolerable wickedness and the time to make decisions will be over hence the overturned soul order.

During those times there will be no repentance and that is why Cohen; speaking in the apocalypse itself says, “When they said REPENT I wonder what they meant” (Cohen stanza III). This is because the future is characterized by murder without repentance that is why he says, “I’ve seen the future brother: It is murder” (Cohen stanza I).

Cohen then goes ahead to look at apocalypse from a Buddhist point of view where the future is now and nothing will change and apocalypse will only bring revelation the unity that has been lacking in the world. People will realize that there is no difference between them and God.

However, Cohen throws in ambiguity as to who he is for he says, “I’m the little Jew who wrote the bible” (Cohen stanza IV). This ambiguity cannot be explained for it brands Cohen an immortal being who has “seen the nations rise and fall” (Cohen stanza IV). The fact that he is already suffering, he is mortal.

In the next stanza, Cohen attacks self-righteousness that people assume to have achieved. ”Your private life will suddenly explode, you’ll see the (your) woman hanging upside down her features covered by her fallen gown” (Cohen Stanza V). The private lives here refer to the self-righteousness aforementioned.

However, Cohen warns that there will be explosion of the same symbolized by a fallen woman. This woman symbolizes justification that people use for their actions and the fact that she is hanging upside down symbolizes defeat. The last stanza recaps the first stanza and it adds, “Give me Christ or give me Hiroshima” (Cohen stanza VI). Christ here symbolizes salvation while Hiroshima is a sign of destruction.

Hiroshima here resonates well with the TV drama “24”. This drama has numerous bomb blasts similar to the famous Hiroshima attacks. Given that Cohen is speaking from the future where there is suffering, he demands salvation or death.


Cohen gives sufficient information about apocalypse. He paints a picture of how the end will be. There will be suffering and people will demand for “Christ” that is, salvation, or “Hiroshima” that is death. However, time to make decisions will be over and there will be eternal darkness and suffering with un-broken nights.

Apocalypse is inevitable, and God will show up, judge people according to their deeds and those who did not receive Christ will languish in eternal suffering where they will cry for mercy but their self-righteousness will not save them.

Works Cited

Cohen, Leonard. “The Future.” A-Z Lyrics, 1992. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "“The Future" by Leonard Cohen." May 20, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-future-by-leonard-cohen/.


IvyPanda. (2020) '“The Future" by Leonard Cohen'. 20 May.

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